National Highways continues to pursue legal action against individuals who breached its injunctions. Thanks to those injunctions, which I asked National Highways to pursue, 11 people have been prosecuted and will be spending this Christmas at Her Majesty’s pleasure.[Official Report, 5 January 2022, Vol. 706, c. 2MC.]
Does my right hon. Friend agree that those who stop ambulances from reaching emergencies, those who block children from seeing their dying parents one last time and those who block vital goods from reaching their destination should face the full force of the law?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is unacceptable for people to disrupt other people’s lives by gluing themselves to roads. It is dangerous both for them and other users of those major roads; it is irresponsible; and it does not help with climate change, because all those cars are sitting there not moving, blasting out all the greenhouse gases that we are trying to avoid. That is why I instructed National Highways to take out a nationwide injunction, which they received. Two further cases, after the nine who were originally sent to prison, were committed to prison yesterday and there are further cases in the works. I very much hope that the message has been sent and received that this action simply does not work. I note that it has ceased to take place since the beginning of November as a result.
I welcome very much the national injunction on motorways and key strategic road networks. However, I understand that it is temporary. I wonder whether my right hon. Friend could confirm that he is considering making it permanent. I also welcome the prison sentences that we have been handing out to many individuals. However, in most cases, it is because they have broken a High Court ruling. Does he agree that sometimes, actually, those sorts of fast punishments should be considered immediately, even if it is a first-time offence?
My hon. Friend is right to spot a gap in the law here, which is why the Home Secretary is introducing, in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, legislation that would make the actual activity criminal. Instead, we have had to resort essentially to civil law. Through those injunctions, 130 activists have been served with 475 sets of injunction papers. We are seeing the fruits of that when they reoffend and the courts take offence to the fact that they have ignored the court injunction and continue to persist. Prison and unlimited fines are the upshot of that, but a proper law to cover this is coming and I invite the Opposition to support it.
Roads across this country are blocked every single day not by protesters, but by traffic congestion, at a huge cost to health, the environment and business. This problem will only get worse unless the alternatives to rising car use—walking, cycling and public transport—are safer, more convenient and affordable. Will the Secretary of State reverse his plans to raise rail fares by an eye-watering 3.8% next March?
I do not want to try your patience by switching to a rail discussion, Mr Speaker, but I will say to the hon. Lady, who knows a great deal about this subject, that Opposition Front Benchers do not want to build or maintain any roads in this country. Whether it is a bicycle or an electric bus—to go back to the previous conversation—they all require roads to drive along, so I suggest that she has a word with her Front Benchers and supports our plan for £24 billion for road maintenance and development.
I thank the Secretary of State for his commitment to legislation that will effectively stop people delaying, inconveniencing and obstructing people going to their work and elsewhere. There is a fine balance to be met between the right to protest and not obstructing or delaying people by what is happening. Will he confirm that the right to protest can still exist but not to the detriment of road users?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: the right to protest is absolutely central to the way that we go about our democracy, but that does not provide people with the right to stop people getting to urgent hospital appointments, getting their kids to school and going about their lawful business. That is where we draw the line. It is why these injunctions have been used and, as has been discussed, we intend to put this into proper law as a criminal offence, rather than having to use the civil route.